CHAPTER I. INTRODUCTION
THE history of Japan may be useful to foreigners in several different ways. If we do not take into account the serviceableness of detached historical data or groups of data, that is to say, when we exclude those cases where the historical data of Japan are studied not for the sake of understanding Japan herself, but in behalf of some other scientific purposes, then it can be said that Japanese history will serve foreigners in two principal and distinct ways. Firstly, it will interest them as the history of one special nation among many in the world. Secondly, it may be useful to historical study in general, seeing that it can be regarded as constituting in itself a microcosm of miniature of the history of the world manifested in that of a small nation. The former point is that which attracts most foreigners by the strength of novelty, while the latter will be none the less suggestive to comprehensive and reflective historians. Both points need some explanations. Let me begin with the first.
Japan is a country inhabited by a people differing remarkably in racial features from those who now occupy the greater part of Europe. She remained for a long time shut up against the foreigners knocking at her gate, and on that account her history, compared with that of other nations, presents striking and unique characteristics. Many ancient manners and customs, some of them having their origins in ages prehistoric and unintelligible even to the present Japanese themselves, are handed down almost unchanged to this day. On the other hand, the history of Japan is not so simple as the histories of many semi-civilised countries, which are generally nothing but incredible legends and records of chronic disturbances arising out of some inevitable natural causes. Full of charming oddities, which might provide sources of wild speculations, and at the same time not lacking a certain complexity,-a complexity indispensable if it is to become an object of interest and investigation to any scientific historian, the history of Japan should prove a very fascinating study. In this it resembles the relation many rare indigenous flora and fauna bear to foreign biologists. It should be noticed, however, that biologists may safely remain constant as regards their points of view, whatever plant or animal they happen to study, while historians ought always to bear in mind that every nation and every age has its own criterion. In the study of Japanese history the same truth must hold good. It is a very regrettable fact, however, that many foreign Japanologists are too fond of neglecting the Japanese point of view, and would like to apply the western standard to the things Japanese they encounter in their researches concerning our country. Frequently they are rash enough to criticise before they have a proper understanding of those things which it is their business to criticise. Sometimes they get at a truth to which Japanese scholars have never attained, but they almost as a rule forget that things Japanese too should be considered from many sides, as occidental things should necessarily be, and inflexibly adhere to that one line of insight which they were once fortunate enough to seize. Or sometimes they attack pitilessly those legendary parts of our history, which are to be found in some school text-books or are not yet entirely expunged from some more scholarly works, on account of a national reluctance to part with those cherished memories of our forefathers. They blame us as if no country in the world were chauvinistic except Japan, and Japan only. Such treatment of Japanese history, however, will avail them nothing at all, not to mention that we suffer very much in our outward relations from it. As chapter II. and the following, however, are chiefly devoted to the purpose of showing that the history of Japan may be interpreted side by side with that of many European nations, I will cease dwelling further on this topic, and will directly go over to the second point.
To consider Japanese history as a miniature of the world's history is rather a new assertion, so that it requires conclusive justification. It is now generally believed or assumed that every nation continues to evolve as an individual does, till it reaches its climax of growth and begins to decay. Hence many modern historians have successively tried to extract certain principles by the process of induction from kindred historical events which took place in different countries and ages, and thus to raise the study of history to the rank of a science in the same sense as that in which the word is used when we speak of natural phenomena. It is a great pity, however, that every historical event is of a very ephemeral nature, never to be repeated in exactly the same form in which it once occurred. And if it passes away, it passes away forever, not to be retarded in the midst of its course by the will of an investigator. Often one can contribute with full consciousness to the happening of an event, or can alter the course of it, but one cannot undo by any means the event itself and wash the ground as if nothing had taken place. Moreover, historical facts are very difficult to detach from their environment entirely, however isolated they seem to be, and on that account they are not fit to be made objects of laboratory experiments. In a school classroom the pupils are taught to solve an algebraic equation of a binomial expression by supposing the value of x and y alternately to be equal to zero. How much the task of historians would be lightened, if we could for some time trace the effect of a certain cause exclusively, setting at naught other concurrent causes, as if those causes might be supposed to be standing still for a moment of observation or hypothetically cancelled for a necessary time!
Strictly speaking, the above device is out of the question in the case of any historical investigation. Setting that aside, there is still another greater difficulty to encounter in the study of history. Every school-boy knows that there is a fundamental law in physics, that when a body is set in motion by a certain impetus, it will move on continuously in one direction with the same momentum, so long as it is left uninfluenced by any other new force. It is true, however, that such a case exists very rarely even in natural phenomena, and it would be quite absurd to look for the like in the domain of history. More than one cause acts conjointly upon individuals, families, tribes, or nations, and before those causes cease to influence, other new causes generally come into play, so that the influences of the latter are interwoven with those of the former causes or groups of causes, and make discrimination between them exceedingly difficult.
Summing up the above, one cannot entirely isolate a country from its surroundings, in order to see what a country or a nation would be able to achieve, if untouched by any outward influence, that is to say, solely out of its own immanent evolving forces. Next, it is none the less difficult to observe scientifically the effects of some outward forces acting on a nation, by warding off the influx of subsequent influences and thus giving to the forces in question the full scope and time to exert their influence. It often happens, however, that what cannot be done artificially may be found produced spontaneously, and though we cannot make experiments, in the strict sense of the word, while observing historical data, it is possible that the history of a nation or of an age may be taken as a case or a phase of an experiment, if such an experiment could ever be tried at all. And indeed the history of Japan may be considered as one of a few such happy cases.
Here I need not talk much about the history of our country anterior to the introduction of the Chinese civilisation. After the opening of the regular intercourse between this country and China in the beginning of the seventh century, institutions, arts, learning, and even the manners of every day life continued for a long time to be brought thence by many official emissaries and students, and copied faithfully here, though generally with slight modifications. At that time, however, there being no country far advanced in civilisation other than China near us, the Chinese influence, the only exotic one, was allowed to take sole and full effect. Besides this, that Chinese civilisation itself was not encouraged to flow in endlessly. When, with the decay of the T'ang dynasty and the setting in of the anarchical condition following it in China, the highly finished culture attained during that dynasty, perhaps the most perfect one China had ever seen, began to degenerate there, the official intercourse between that country and Japan was interrupted. Of course, I do not mean to say that even private and intermittent commercial intercourse was also suspended at the same time, for the geographical position of our country toward China does not allow the former to remain entirely isolated from the latter. The suspension of the regular intercourse itself, however, was enough to save Japan from becoming entangled in the vicissitudes of the various dynasties following the T'ang, and our forefathers were left to themselves to make the best use of, that is to say, to digest, what had already been brought in abundantly. In the succeeding period the quiet process of rumination went on for several centuries. If we look back into the Japanese history of that time, therefore, we can ascertain fairly scientifically the effect of a high civilisation acting on a naïve population not yet sufficiently organised as a nation, as our country was at that period, and likewise we can observe many traits of the old T'ang culture, which is now difficult to trace in China herself. This is our first experiment in Chinese civilisation.
Among the dynasties that followed the fall of the T'ang, that which longest held the rule was the Sung, and between China under the latter dynasty and Japan merchant ships plied now and then. Some Japanese Buddhist priests followed the track of their predecessors, and went over to China to study Buddhism. At the time of the Yuen dynasty founded by the Mongols, China sent many Buddhist missionaries successively to Japan, where religious innovations were in course of progress. This is our second experiment in Chinese civilisation. In the first experiment the religious element was of course not excluded. The essential characteristic, however, of the culture of the T'ang dynasty was politico-æsthetical, and as the result of the introduction of that culture, Japan became enlightened in general. In other words, the first experiment may be said to have been an æsthetical one, while the second is one apt to be termed a religious one, and by the blending of the results of the two experiments, we became a tolerably æsthetic and religious people. Still there remained much to be wished for in respect of national unification and social solidarity, and it is the culture of the Sung dynasty itself which provided that very need, being politico-ethical in its essential nature. By the introduction of that culture the doctrines of the Confucian philosophers, which were made the means of regulating the social and political organisation of Japan, were inculcated widely and deeply, and forced into practice more rigorously than they were in China herself. This is our third experiment in Chinese civilisation. And when this experiment was almost finished, we were faced by the inundation of western civilisation, which at last made it impossible for us to continue the process of rumination, and compelled us to plunge headlong into the maelstrom of world history.
It is rather derogatory to our national pride to have to aver that we are so deeply indebted to Chinese civilisation. Yet the facts cannot be denied, nor the truth falsified. Moreover, we need not be ashamed that we brought in so much from China, while we gave very little to the Chinese in exchange. How could we, who were very late in commencing a civilised national life, initiate a new civilisation independent of that of China, without imitating it? Was not the Chinese civilisation too far advanced and too overpowering for the Japanese of that time, the Japanese who were still at the outset of their evolutionary march? On the contrary, justice should be done to the fact, that we not only improved ourselves by availing ourselves of such a high civilisation, but withstood it at the same time, being far from dwindling away as a result of having come into contact with it, as many uncivilised races have done in a similar case. No impartial historian would fail to observe that there is some capacity not borrowed but inborn in the Japanese people, by force of which they were able to consolidate themselves as a compact nation, possessing striking characteristics quite different from those of China. And it is especially to be noted to the honour of the Japanese, that the more we helped ourselves to Chinese culture, the wider became the divergence between the two countries. Could such a way of introducing an alien civilisation be designated a servile imitation? I am far from trying to embellish every phase of the history of Japan, whatever its due merit may be, and would be content if even a few of the wanton calumnies current vis à vis Japan be set aright by making her real history understood, which is not very easy to grasp, but yet not so sterile as it is reputed to be by some foreign historians.
What I want to call attention to next is that the history of our country is not that monotonous repetition of a certain kind of historical data, however peculiar the data in themselves may be. Nay, the history of Japan is full of varieties in the nature of its data. The history of Greece is sometimes stated to be a miniature of the world's history on account of the richness in variety of the historical phenomena which occurred there, it being possible to find there also most of the important subjects treated in history at large, though of course on a much reduced scale. In this regard, too, the history of Japan closely resembles that of ancient Greece. Our country had been disunited for a long time, each section constituting itself a political quasi-unit governed by a certain local semi-independent lord, like the tyrant of Greek history. Those local potentates, however, were not so arrogant as not to recognise the hereditary, political and spiritual sovereignty of the Emperor. Not only that. They also reluctantly rejected the hegemony of the Shogunate, though as a matter of fact this had but a nominal existence. From this point of view, it might be asserted that our country never ceased to be a united one. The bond of unity, however, became very slack at intervals, so that the very existence of the unity itself was often in doubt. In our history, therefore, there were many obstacles to progress, especially in those lines of progress which necessarily depend on the close unification of the whole country. At the same time, however, advantages are not to be neglected, which might be considered to result from the dismemberment itself. Japan had many small centres at some periods. But it was, to some extent, owing to similar circumstances that those centres came into existence, and for that reason there was to be found much in common in all of them, in respect of the tone of the culture fostered in the respective centres. That is a matter of course. Among those centres, however, there arose naturally much vying with one another in the promotion of their progress, and thus the general standard of civilisation in Japan came to be raised to a not inconsiderable height. Moreover, something like international relations began to grow up between those units, which contributed largely to the perfection of the culture within each of them. This is the same interesting phenomenon, which we can trace not in the history of Greece only, but in that of the Holy Roman Empire, nay, even in the history of Europe itself. The difference is simply that in Europe the same phenomenon developed on a grand scale, while it took place in Japan in a very small compass. No wonder that as a result of having had a national experience of the nature stated above, the history of Japan is rich in varieties of data and deserves the attention of highly qualified historians. So let me here submit to a hasty examination a few of the important items in Japanese history, which even to European readers, may be of no small interest, having their parallels in the histories of the West.
The first and the most important item to be mentioned is feudalism. A famous living French historian once told me that it was absurd to speak of Japanese feudalism, since feudalism was a special historical phenomenon originated by the Franks, and therefore not to be found outside of Europe. How is the word "feudalism" rightly to be defined then? May it not be extended to a similar system which prevailed in western Europe, but not under Frankish authority? If it can be said that feudalism also obtained in the Swabian, the Saxonian and the Marcomanian land, surely it would not be absurd to extend it a bit further so as to make it cover similar phenomena which arose in non-European countries, for example in China and especially in Japan. For centuries in Europe historians successively tried to solve the question, What is feudalism? A great number of hypotheses has been presented. Some of them held the ground against their antagonists in bitter scientific controversies, but were soon obliged to give way to clever newly-started theories, and no conclusive solution has yet been given to the problem. The cause of the failure chiefly lies in the mistaken idea, that feudalism is a kind of systematic legislation, which originated in the elaboration of some rules put together by some sagacious ruler, or in the time-honoured invention of some very gifted tribe, and starting from this erroneous supposition some scholars have believed that they would be able to generalise from those overwhelmingly chaotic materials, and thereby to establish certain fundamental principles applicable to the feudal relation of whichever country they chose. Far from their assumption being true, however, feudalism is not an invention of somebody, made consciously, nor a result of a deliberately devised enactment. A few general rules may be extracted perhaps by so-called generalising, but even these few would be provided with exceptional conditions. Therefore, the truth we reach at last by studying the historical sources concerning feudalism is rather the general spirit pervading all kinds of feudalism, and not any concrete rule applicable everywhere, as we see in the case of natural sciences. If the granting of the usufruct of a certain extent of land in exchange for military service is the essence of feudalism, it is indisputable that feudalism existed in Japan too.
Feudalism is indeed a necessity, as a Chinese servant has said in a memorable essay. It is a necessity which any nation must undergo, if that nation is to become consolidated. Feudalism is often described as a backward movement with respect to the political organisation. Primitive races, however, cannot be described as having been either centralised or decentralised, socially and politically, and the first stage which they must pass is that of a vague centralisation. In this stage, superficially observed, it appears as if the race were centralised at one point, but the truth is that in so early a stage of civilisation, it is not probable that more than one prominent centre would at once be formed conspicuous enough to attract attention. And even that one centre itself is formed, not because it is strong enough to centralise, but because centripetalism actuates the environment, and no other force is yet so strong as to compete with it. In early times, however, the degree of prominency of a single centre over all others must have been very slight. As time passes, lesser centres begin to distinguish themselves, closely following the prominent first in strength of centralisation, and become at last so powerful as to be able to challenge the hegemony of the first centre. This state of affairs we generally denote as the age of dismemberment, as if a true centralisation had been accomplished in the age preceding. This view is utterly false. Without the power to centralise, no political centre can be said to exist really, and without any strong centre effective centralisation is not possible. The apparent centralised, that is to say, unified condition of the ancient empires, is nothing but a chaotic condition with one bright point only, and the state of being seemingly dismembered is in truth a step toward the real unification, centralisation in partibus paving the way for centralisation on a larger scale. This phase in the preparatory process for the unity and consolidation of a nation is feudalism itself. Feudalism is a test through which every nation must pass, if it aspires to become a well organised body at all. There are some tribes, indeed, which have never passed through the feudal period in their history, but that is due to the fact that these tribes had certain defective traits which hindered them from undergoing that experience, and on account of that they have been unable to achieve a sound, well-proportioned progress in their civilisation, which must necessarily be accompanied by a well- organised political centralisation, whether it be monarchical or democratic. Other nations have passed, it is true, the test of the feudal régime, but very imperfectly, and for that reason have had great difficulty in amending the defect afterwards.
By no means need we lament that we were under the feudal régime for a considerable time in our history. On the contrary, I am rejoiced that we were. Every political devolopment must go side by side with the corresponding social progress. The latter, unless sheltered by the former, lacks stability, while the former, if unaccompanied by the latter, is not tenable, and will break down before long and be of no avail. Feudalism can be compared to a nut-shell, which protects the kernel till it quietly consummates its maturing process within. Social progress, of whatever sort it be, ought to be covered by a political régime of a certain kind, especially adapted to discharge the task of protection, and must be allowed thereby to prosecute its own development free from disturbing influences. Feudalism is one of the political régimes indispensable to perform such a function. Though it seems to be fortunate for a nation not to tarry too long in the stage of feudalism, yet it is not desirable for the nation to emerge out of this stage prematurely.
To sum up, in order that a nation may continue in its healthy progress, it should have feudalism once in its historical course, and must pass that test fairly. And as passing a test can be fruitful only on condition that that test itself be fair, it becomes necessary as a natural consequence that a fair test must be passed fairly. Then how is it with Japan? It cannot be safely said that we have passed the test exceedingly well, but at the same time we can presume that we have not passed it badly. If someone should say that the Japanese stayed unnecessarily long in that condition and have not even yet entirely emerged from it, he must have forgotten that even the most civilised countries of Europe could not shake off the shackles of the feudal system entirely until very recent times, the first half of the nineteenth century still retaining an easily perceptible tincture of it, as we see in the survival of the patrimonial jurisdiction in some continental states of Europe. On the other hand foreign observers generally fail to see that the régime of the Tokugawa Shogunate, which I shall expatiate upon in a later chapter, is of a sort quite different from that of the European feudalism in the middle ages, and are induced to believe that the Japanese nation has been quit of the miserable régime for only fifty years. These views are both totally mistaken. In our relation to feudalism, we went through almost the same experience as other civilised nations did, neither more nor less. Because, in so far as we speak of the history of any nation ranging from its beginning till our day, more than half of it can be held to have been occupied by feudalism, the history of Japan may also be said to have in common with other nations more than half of the essential elements which the so-called history of the world could teach.
After having seen that our history is not totally unlike that of the nations of Europe in its most essential trait, it is not strange that the history of Japan should contain many other things, besides feudalism, which can be reckoned as the typical items necessary to make up the history of any civilised nation, that is to say, as the chief ingredients not to be dispensed with in the world's history,-viz., various religious movements keeping pace with the social development at large, economic evolution conditioning and conditioned by the changes of other factors constituting civilisation in general, etc. As the foreign influences can be traced comparatively distinctly, the history of Japan can, to a large extent, be subjected to a scientific analysis. So if we look for the history of a nation, which is fit to represent the gradual evolution of national progress in general, Japanese history must be a select one. It is in this respect that I said that the history of our country is a miniature of the world's history. After all the history of Japan is not so simple and naïve as to be either an easy topic for amateur historians, or a suitable theme for ordinary anthropologists, ethnographers, or philologists, who are not specially qualified to deal with histories of civilised times. Those whom I should heartily welcome as the investigators of the history of our country, are those historians in Europe and America, who, more than amply qualified to write the history of their own countries, have continued to disdain extending their field of investigation to the corners of the world, thought by them not civilised enough to be worthy of their labour. If they care to peep into the history of our country, perhaps the result will not be so barren as to disappoint them utterly. The greatest misfortune to our country at the present day is that her history has been written by very few first-rate historians of Europe and America, those who have written upon it being mostly of the second or third rank. Nay, there are many who cannot be called historians at all. The best qualifications they have are that, by some means or other, they can write a book, or that they were once residents of Japan, and if they venture to write a history about a country outside of their own, Japan seems to them to be the easiest subject, the greater part of their compatriots being quite ignorant of it.
I dwell thus long, however, on the significance of the history of Japan, not in order to silence these quasi-historians, nor forcibly to induce the first-rate foreign historian to study the history of Japan against his own will. The former attempt is useless, while the latter may be almost hopeless. The principal reason for having long dwelt on the subject, is only to have it understood by foreigners, that the Japanese nation, which has such an advanced historical experience in the past, is not to be considered as one only recently awakened, and therefore to be admired, patted, encouraged, feared and despised in rapid succession. If once they happen to understand the true history of Japan, then the fluctuations in their estimation of us will also cease; then, perhaps, we shall not be feared, or rather, made an object of scare any more, as now we are, but at the same time we shall be happy not to be disliked or rejected.